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To Greece

Fourth Brigade Group is Withdrawn

Fourth Brigade Group is Withdrawn

The decision to withdraw 4 and 6 Brigades to the slopes of Mount Olympus had been made1 during the afternoon of 7 April, but the written orders for the move were not received until the following day, by which time General Freyberg had already instructed 26 Battalion to leave its position on the ridge overlooking the anti-tank ditch. Less D Company at the Platamon tunnel and the carrier platoons which would remain in the area, the battalion would move back to the road junction at the foot of Olympus Pass preparatory to constructing lines for 6 Brigade on the left of 5 Brigade. The companies moved out that afternoon in heavy rain, marching 12 miles along the clay roads before they were taken by motor transport to the Sanatorium area near the foot of the pass. Here they received different orders. Some were detailed to control the stream of motor vehicles, gun limbers and Greek refugees with mules and carts; others were sent back into the pass to prepare the tracks by which the artillery could take its guns off from the main highway.

The sector vacated by the battalion was now held by two platoons from 24 Battalion, one platoon from 25 Battalion and 26 Battalion carrier platoon, all under the command of Major George,2 with 4 Machine Gun Company3 under command.

In the same period between the decision to withdraw to the passes and the receipt of instructions from General Blamey, there had been tentative plans for the withdrawal of 4 Brigade and 6 Field Regiment to a line below the pass, through which 6 Brigade with 4 and 5 Field Regiments could retire after making contact with the advancing Germans.

1 See p. 163.

2 Lt-Col C. D. A. George, ED, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Wellington, 9 Mar 1906; draper; CO 25 Bn Dec 1941–Jul 1942; p.w. 22 Jul 1942; escaped, Italy, Sep 1943.

3 This company remained in the 22 Battalion area.

page 172

On 8 April, however, very different orders were received from General Blamey. The New Zealand Division which General Freyberg had been attempting to keep together as one force was to be split far more widely than before. Fourth Brigade, with supporting artillery and engineers, would retire forthwith through the mountains and go north to Servia, where it would, as Corps reserve, occupy the vital sector1 of a new line that was being built up along the Olympus Range and the upper Aliakmon River. The other units of the Division, less the outer screen of Divisional Cavalry, would prepare to withdraw to Olympus Pass.

That night, 8–9 April, the artillery with the 4 Brigade Group began its withdrawal, 6 Field Regiment pulling out over the rain-soaked tracks and roads to the western side of the pass, where it camped for the night. Next morning it moved north to the southern end of Servia Pass and sent out reconnaissance parties to look for gun positions. Thirty-first Anti-Tank Battery should have withdrawn that night but clear orders were not received in time. However, B Troop returned that night from 6 Brigade and the whole battery was able to assemble at Ay Ioannis, from which it moved next morning to join the main convoy.

Eighteenth, 19 and 20 Battalions had the night of 8–9 April in which to make their preparations before marching to an assembly area just north of Katerini. The unit transport took all equipment of immediate importance; anything else was left under guard until arrangements could be made for transportation. In the early hours of 9 April, with the sky to the north-east now red with the flames from the demolitions in Salonika, they left the anti-tank ditch, the gun positions and the wire entanglements which they had taken so much trouble to prepare. From the assembly area where they were joined by 1 Section 6 Field Company and 31 Anti-Tank Battery, the battalions were taken over the mountains and north to Servia Pass in the trucks of the Divisional Supply Column and the Divisional Petrol Company.

Once there the brigade group2 was to have gone to a bivouac area, but at Kato Filippaioi the column was ordered to proceed immediately to positions about the pass. Instructions in greater detail had already been given to Brigadier Puttick, who had driven ahead of his brigade and reported at Headquarters Australian Corps at Yerania. In order to prevent any sudden penetration from the north his brigade, with one battalion in reserve, would take up a defensive position along the line Kastania-Servia-Prosilion. It had to be held at all costs because through it units from the north

1 See p. 166.

2 4 Bde with 6 Fd Regt, sec 6 Fd Coy, 31 A-Tk Bty and 5 Fd Amb.

page 173 would eventually withdraw. So, with this definite assignment, the brigade group continued on its way.